Got Data? Find The $tories

What would you say the media industry -- networks, advertisers, and agencies -- does best?

Innovate? Seldom. Work together? Often. Make money? Well, that's the point, isn't it?

I'd say that what the industry does best -- what everyone has in common, whatever our role is in the ecosystem -- is tell creative stories. Yes, content is king and it's all about the creative.

That's why we watch. We want to laugh, cry, and be entertained.

Which television programs enjoy the longest runs? The ones that attract viewers with the best characters and most compelling narratives.

And which commercials are most memorable? The ones that tell the most engaging stories. These are the commercials that we watch, recall, and talk about with our colleagues at the water cooler. Sometimes they even achieve the holy grail of viral success.

But the biggest challenge for all of us in the media business has always been to identify the right audiences for our stories: for networks to find viewers who connect with their programming and for agencies and advertisers to find the narratives that most matter to their brands.

With the abundance of analytics now available to networks and marketers -- second-by-second ratings, household purchasing data, census-level demographics -- it should be easier than ever to find those audiences. Because finally, data can tell stories, too.

As Canoe Ventures' David Verklin says, "Data is the new creative." Data now drives advertisers' connections with audiences in the way that creative did in the past. Granted, one cannot succeed without the other, but without the right data, the best creative effort will fall flat. Even virtuosos need to play to the right audience.

The old metrics -- remember POOR points? -- don't tell the story advertisers need to understand in order to connect with viewers. A soft-drink marketer might know that four programs in a given time slot attract women aged 18 to 49, but those high-level metrics won't show where to find the best ROI for their particular category. Talk about soda without the fizz!

For advertisers, there is now an opportunity to optimize exposure with actual purchasers of a given product, on networks and programs they might have overlooked. For instance, did you know that NBC's "30 Rock" rates very highly with European car owners? (VW is actually the highest.) Or that Lincoln and Mercury owners are more likely than owners of other cars to watch the Gospel Music Channel?

Conversely, data can tell networks where to look for ad dollars. "Real Housewives of New York City" on Bravo gets high ratings in many CPG categories, from air fresheners to granola. But remember that the system that analyzes the data is a computer - not a brain. So when Bravo shows a high rating for razors, planners and buyers need to consider the context before pulling the trigger.

While stories are not always obvious, sometimes they are: MTV rates highly with fans of Red Bull.

Data can also reveal opportunity where Nielsen doesn't tread: Bloomberg TV, for instance. There are no Nielsen ratings for Bloomberg TV, and yet the network offers a high-value platform for financial-products marketers. While this may be an obvious point, the data can tell marketers even more. For instance, that households that watch Bloomberg TV are far more likely than those that watch CNN or CNBC to hold an American Express card, drive high-end foreign cars, and own a brokerage account. Hello, Mercedes, Lexus, and BMW? Advertise here.

Yes, data just might be the new creative. The opportunity for all of us now, as we wade through virtual oceans of that creative, is to take the stories we tell and turn them into dollars.

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